I have often heard the phrase “Yoga off the mat” as a way to explain the importance of taking one’s personal yoga practice (on the mat) to connect more profoundly to the wider world (off the mat). And while this is a beautiful, poetic way to describe the importance of outward expression, and I do personally love this expression; this description implies that yoga on the mat is somewhat a separate activity to that off the mat.
If indeed we find it necessary to describe yoga in terms of “on and off the mat” then it appears that we are losing yoga’s original, ancient meaning.
The term yoga is translated as “union” and so the goal or destination of yoga (union) is yoga (union) itself. Simply put, the goal of yoga is yoga!
Yoga is the process of connecting, awakening and realisation. Consider this description of yoga: Yoga is physical system with a spiritual movement.
This description is quite fitting with how yoga is viewed today, particularly in the West. However, it would be more accurate to rephrase the statement in this way: Yoga is a spiritual system with a physical movement.
Sometimes the spiritual realm can feel quite distant, unknown and unattainable. So it is helpful to start with something we are familiar with. We know our bodies – our body is tangible. We can touch it, feel it, see it. What better way to start, than with something physical, real and obvious to our senses. Our body is what we know and so we work with that to help us journey through the process of spiritual discovery.
Our body is what helps us connect to our mind, to our breath…to consciousness. So we start the practice using our body. With regular, sustained practice, we start to notice changes in our lives; our way of thinking, our approach to life, suffering, happiness, relationships, attitudes and our way of “being” in the world – THIS IS YOGA working! This is UNITY. This is “yoga off the mat”. Peaceful beings
Yoga is a science; a practical philosophy that deals with the body, breath, mind and soul and ultimately the universal Self… connecting to the divine! Yoga uses the physical body to help us journey to the ultimate goal of spiritual realisation.
Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras that we can achieve this spiritual realisation through a regular and sustained practice (1.14). So what are you waiting for?
Get on your mat, practice unity.
Be present and create the space for change.